How to Catch a Piranha

After a peaceful arrival into the Pantanal the night before, my first day in the Brazilian wetlands was exactly that, wet.

It poured for the better part of the morning and our planned jeep safari and eco-hike turned into a drunken refugee camp. We circled around a shop table with a group of local farmers, taking shots of Johnnie Walker to pass the time.

Pantanal Tour in the Pantanal Wetlands of Brazil
The rain has lifted and the whisky has settled, time to get back to work.

We had set out early to trek through the marsh, but the rain made it impossible to hike or drive too far.

After about an hour inside a small farmhouse/convenience store, we made a second attempt at salvaging the day.

This time the rain and mud proved to be too much and within minutes, we found ourselves stuck in a ditch. Luckily, traffic was frequent and we eventually linked onto a semi full of cattle to help pull us out.

Pantanal Tour in the Pantanal Wetlands of Brazil
They don’t call ’em wetlands for nothing guys.

While the morning was a wash, the lunch hour brought a change in weather, and by 2pm we were out on the river in search of piranha!

Our guide explained that there are many different species of piranha, varying in color, size and level of aggression. The ones we were fishing for happened to be on the aggressive side, but he assured us that if we fell in, we’d only be attacked if we were bleeding. Good to know.

Along with the helpful survival tips, he also taught us how to catch piranha in the Pantanal. Here’s what I learned…

How to Catch Piranha - Pantanal Brazil - Perfect Form
Fish on!

Step 1: Location – Stick by the mangroves and shoreline where the piranha gather in the shallow water.

Step 2: Equipment & Bait – Use a simple bamboo pole with chopped pieces of raw steak. It’s bloody and harder to pull off the hook than a worm, shrimps or minnow.

How to Catch Piranha - Pantanal Brazil - Perfect Form
Textbook form from our Pantanal guide.

Step 3: Technique – Fishing for Piranha is great for those with A.D.D. because they’re either there or they’re not.  It doesn’t take too much time to get a bite once you have the first two steps down.

You don’t want to rest the bait in the water, move it around and splash it in and out of the water every so often to get their attention.

The important part is that unlike some fishing I’ve done in Mexico and Florida, you can’t wait for these fish to run with the bait. Piranha are ferocious nibblers and their teeth are sharp enough to eat around the hook or pull it right off.

As soon as you feel a solid bite you have to snap your wrist quick and hard to hook-em.

Step 4: Unhooking & Storing – Like many fish, the most secure place to grab the Piranha right behind the gills. Piranha will jump around like crazy once inside the boat, so it’s best to stick a knife between their eyes after unhooking so they don’t bite your toes off.

How to Catch Piranha - Pantanal Brazil - Piranha Teeth
Stick your finger in there, see what happens.

Step 5: Cooking – Once back on shore, it’s time to make dinner! Fry them up or make a delicious Piranha soup. Today you learned how to catch a Piranha in the Pantanal.

How to Catch Piranha - Pantanal Brazil - Piranha Soup
Be careful, it has a bite to it!

Read about my first night in the Pantanal if you haven’t already.

My name is Gareth Leonard, a Marketing Director turned World Traveler with a passion for slow, meaningful travel. I have been traveling the world full-time for the past 9+ years and document it all on Instagram and YouTube. Come join me!

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